New Brunswick’s whistleblower law has barely been used in the five years since it was introduced to allow civil servants to report illegal or dangerous actions by their co-workers, according to the province’s acting ombudsman.
François Levert, the acting ombudsman, took over responsibility for the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which is better known as the whistleblower law, a year ago.
So far he has received only seven calls to his office from people asking about the law.
Most of the calls, he said, were looking for information and not one has led to wrongdoers being caught and punished.
Levert said he's going to do more to let provincial government employees know how the act protects them when they report problems.
"I'd like to take a proactive approach to this act and promote it in a more comprehensive way," Levert said.
The ombudsman’s annual report this year will feature a section that describes the whistleblower act.
The whistleblower law was passed in 2007 and was previously monitored by the province’s conflict of interest commissioner.
Justice Patrick Ryan wasn't much busier when he was responsible for the act. In 2010, the conflict commissioner fielded 11 queries relating to the whistleblower act.
In his final report that covered the law, Ryan recommended toughening it by adding sanctions against those who take reprisals or retaliate against whistleblowers.
The current law prohibits reprisals now but has no punishment.
Civil servant charged
The issue of whistleblowers arose this week after police charged a senior bureaucrat at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries with obstruction of justice because of an anonymous letter sent to an Opposition MLA.
The allegations have not been proven in court and it is not known whether the author of the letter was a civil servant.
But the whistleblower law was not used in this case. The Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries did not cite any disclosures under the act in its annual reports between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau said he believes civil servants are still uneasy about coming forward with information about their colleagues.
"It's going to be difficult for somebody to feel 100 per cent comfortable doing something like that," he said.
Levert and Boudreau both support an idea from New Brunswick's conflict of interest commissioner to toughen the act by adding punishments for those who retaliate against whistleblowers